‘Rain valley’: The flood-damaged community where everyone is worse off
According to the inhabitants of Rai Valley, one would think that there was hardly any damage. But the landscape tells another story. Matt Hampson spent a day in the cut community this week.
There was no teaching at the Rai Valley area school on Wednesday. The school remained closed, but a group of local volunteers were busy in the kitchen preparing hot meals and food parcels for local residents.
Stuffed sausages were on the menu and volunteer Joanie Benge said 42 hot meals would be delivered to homes, along with food parcels, by the end of the day.
“That means someone is going to show up and provide them with food today. We also give them coffee…something that will surprise them and be appreciated,” she said.
The volunteers, who had organized themselves through a Rai Valley community Facebook group, had been preparing meals at the school since Saturday.
* Whale Watching Society offers Blenheim-Nelson flights
* Top southern farmers prepare for a big cleanup and count the cost of flood damage
* Deluge closes parts of the Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte tracks
“We started delivering to the immediate village and then expanded to the wider area,” she said.
The flood damage had been ‘just devastating’ for people in the Rai Valley region, but Benge said the people were ‘awesome’, saying ‘it’s such an amazing community of people’ .
“It’s an absolute privilege to work for a team and community like this,” she said.
Rai Valley was still cut off, with slides either side of the township on State Highway 6, after days of torrential rain over the weekend. Renwick in Havelock had reopened, but past Havelock was restricted to residents.
The main highway between Blenheim and Nelson, as well as the alternative SH63, would be closed until at least next week.
Stuff was there on Wednesday when Fonterra’s first milk tanker arrived at his farm since SH6 first shut down.
A few miles south of Rai Valley on SH6 in the Pelorus region, a Fonterra milk tanker from Canterbury arrived on the property of dairy farmer Geoff Shearer.
It was the first time milk had been collected from his farm since the road was closed a week ago, and Shearer said he was forced to “dump” several tanks of milk.
“It’s probably the worst time of year for this to happen – we have calving, and so calving cows need to be milked,” he said.
The driveway to his property had been badly damaged and flooding had “ripped out all the fences” at the front of the property, but Shearer said “we’re probably better off than most people”.
“Some [farmers], the land was destroyed by the flood waters. I guess we are a bit luckier, we have a lot of height,” he said.
“The farm just down the road there probably lost 20% of their land just to silt and rubbish coming through, which means they’re going to have to remove 20% of their cows.”
Farmers in the area had “banded together” to help each other clean up their properties, Shearer said, and there had been “incredible community support.”
“Everyone works together, which is good,” he said.
“The school and the marae cooked meals for us, it was just amazing.”
Shearer said Fonterra had organized a group of people to come from Canterbury to help farmers in the Pelorus and Rai Valley areas clean up and rebuild their fences.
“They’re brilliant in disasters,” he said.
On Wednesday, another dairy farmer, Greg Thompson, was helping move cattle from his son’s farm in the Opouri River area.
The flooding of the river had caused damage to farms in the area and to the road between them, which had been made accessible to 4×4 vehicles on Wednesday.
“The biggest thing was trying to move animals,” Thompson said.
Her youngest son, also a farmer, was caught in the river last Thursday while trying to rescue animals on his farm that had ended up in the river.
“My youngest [son] got caught in the flood, he’s got pneumonia in both lungs, he’s pretty much a crook,” he said.
After being ‘reluctantly’ taken to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim, Thompson said his son was already back on the farm, cleaning up flood damage on the property. He was nowhere to be found on Wednesday.
At a farm across the road, Pam Harvey, who had lived there since 1978, said they still had no landline or cellphone coverage on Wednesday.
“This rain was not like other rains. We have a lot of rain here, but it has been going on for several days,” she said.
“This is the valley of rain – we are the source of Marlborough’s rain.”
From 4:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, the farm’s rain gauge “overflowed,” recording nine and a half inches of rain. Harvey said the gauge was reset at midnight, and by the time she checked it the next morning, the gauge had registered another nine inches of rain.
The Tunakino Valley, northeast of the Rai Valley, received one meter of rain at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Although the property itself largely escaped any significant damage and the farm did not lose any livestock, Harvey said they were without power for two days and were left to rely on their generator .
“We live hand to mouth,” she says.
Rai Valley dairy farmer Tim Harvey, who has lived on the farm all his life, says they did much better than the others.
His son Tim Harvey, who has lived on the farm all his life, said they had ‘never had a four-day flood before’.
Although the water was higher in other floods, he said the rain this time left “everything so, so saturated”.
“It did a lot more damage because of the saturation level of everything, that’s why there are more slippages [and] there is a lot more damage in the rivers,” he said.
By the third day of rain, it “started to get a bit depressing,” he said.
“Just by seeing how much land [was] being swept away and destruction, but we came through it much better than many others,” he said.
As “the next flood could be next week,” he said it was important to keep a stock of animal health supplies, food supplies and your own generator.
He said the community had “come together” over the past week, which was “where that rural spirit came into play”.
Justin Morrison, who lived in the Ronga Valley, said he knocked on her door at 3.30am on Saturday morning from two neighbors who had managed to escape from their house, before she slipped several meters up the hill on the road.
The neighbours, who Morrison said were a man and a woman in their 60s, had walked “half a mile down the road” to his house, “in the rain and through soggy paddocks”.
“They only had a bag of clothes with them, so we lent them some clothes and gave them a cup of tea,” he said.
He said the man woke up around 2.30am after an “initial tremor from the ground moving over their property”.
The next morning Morrison said they had driven to see what damage had been done, and he said his first reaction to seeing the house lying on the road was “holy s…”.
“They were quite shocked,” he said.
Further towards Nelson on SH6, on the Marlborough side of the Whangamoa Saddle, pieces of road were missing, and there were still fallen trees and several slides to clear.
Farmer Marc Nightingale and his family lived on Kokorua Rd in the Whangamoas, a property where Nightingale had lived for almost 40 years.
Locals had cleared most of the slips on the road themselves, using their own diggers and tractors, Nightingale said.
“You have to have access somehow, you just have to dig yourself up,” he said.
He said their home went without power for two days, forcing his family to cook their meals over a wood-fired oven, and on Wednesday this week he said they still couldn’t use their landline, like a post that provided them with cover. fell on it.
“There was no way to communicate with someone we didn’t have power,” Nightingale said.
He said he was still trying to contain his cattle after the fences on his property had to be repaired due to flooding, and he said most farmers in the area had already ‘burnt’ their stock of feed for animals.